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Vegetarian & Vegan

  1. Where can I find a dietitian who works with veetarians? Answer
  2. Recently my 6 1/2 year old daughter discovered that meat comes from animals and refuses to eat it. Answer
  3. We are trying to put together a resource for individuals who are vegetarian and are physically active / athletic. Answer
  4. My daughter who is 14 is an ovo-lacto vegetarian. Recently she developed cracks in the corners of her mouth. I suspect there is some trace item she's missing. Answer
  5. I have never seen anything written about the effect cooking has on the nutrients in soy products. Is any particular form of soy more beneficial than others? Answer
  6. I recently became a vegetarian and am concerned that I'm not eating enough protein. Answer
  7. I am changing my diet to that of a vegetarian in hoping to add a more personal tone to my paper. I'm interested in the advantages of a vegetarian diet. Answer
  8. I know that the vegetarian and vegan are is the only really healthy diets. The idea that we have to combine foods to get complete amino acids was laid to rest. Answer
  9. It is impossible to design an amino acid deficient pure vegetarian diet. Answer

  10. I have written several books on the subject of vegetarians. Answer
  11. I have been avoiding animal products for the last two years. I haven't had much energy. What are some energy foods? Answer
  12. I decided to become a vegetarian after my doctor told me I had high blood cholesterol. How long will it take my cholesterol to go down? Answer

Where can I find a dietitian who works with vegetarians?

The Vegetarian Nutrition dietetic practice group of the American Dietetic Association specializes in working with vegetarians. You can find a dietitian at the American Dietetic Association. Include your zip code or city / state and the type of service you want (individual consultation) with expertise in vegetarian nutrition.

I came across your website after hearing about it on the 6:00 o'clock news. We have a 6 1/2 old daughter who is causing us some concern. Recently she discovered that meat comes from animals and refuses to eat it. I can accept that, but what foods can I give her in place of meats?

She is also a fairly picky eater. She refuses cheese, butter and eggs. She will eat peanut butter, but I cannot send that to school for lunch because her school has a "peanut ban". She enjoys yogurt. She eats the basic vegetables and limited fruit (apples, peaches, fruit cocktail). She also takes a children's multivitamin with iron everyday. I believe she is in the 75% range for height and weight (she is 52 pounds and 49 inches tall), so I am not concerned about her physical growth. Any suggestions as to what she should be eating each day in place of meats would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Will she drink milk as it doesn't result from killing animals as she already eats yogurt?

Tofu and other soybean products contain complete protein. If she has decided to not eat meat, I would talk to her about eating a greater variety of grains, beans, fruits and vegetables. I would recommend you read my vegetarian topic for more specific information. You can also access the Vegetarian Resource Group at for more information including recipes.

While height is genetically determined, it can be affected by a change in nutritional status i.e. limited food intake. Meat eaters are usually taller for age than vegetarians as represented by several African tribes. Since your daughter is only 6 1/2, my concern is that she continue to grow along the 75th percentile for height and weight until she reaches at least 18 years of age when most females reach their height potential. I would recommend that her height and weight be monitored every 6 months. If she deviates from her earlier growth chart, then I would recommend you contact her physician.

While the daily multivitamin will provide her with vitamins and minerals, she still needs the building blocks found in protein. She also needs carbohydrates for energy and a moderate amount of fat for essential fatty acids.

My partner and I are nutrition students from the University of Saskatchewan and are trying to put together a resource for individuals who are vegetarian (various types, including vegan) and are physically active / athletic. We want to offer information that will help physically active vegetarians maintain and optimize health and performance through meeting their nutritional needs. Our strategy, so far, is accumulating information on the topic through exploring all avenues. We are interested in knowing whether or not you had any information concerning this area that could help us in developing our resource?

If you do, could you please respond. Thank you for your time. Your help will be much appreciated. Thanks again,

Try the vegetarian dietetic practice group of the American Dietetic Association. If you were thinking of a website, there are a lot of good vegetarian sites. See what's been done already.

My daughter who is 14, is an ovo-lacto vegetarian. I support this and between the two of us we try to make sure she receives the nutrients she needs. She has been eating this way for about 4 months.

Recently she has developed cracks in the corners of her mouth. My older daughter had the same thing (same ovo-lacto diet), but they went away. My 14-year-old, takes a multivitamin. I suspect there is some trace item she's missing. She eats a variety of veggies, fruit, whole grains, legumes, rice, etc, as well as eggs, milk and cheese. Any tips? Considering her age, any additional recommendations would be greatly appreciated!

Cracks in the corners of your mouth could indicate a riboflavin (vitamin B2) deficiency. But, since she is taking a multivitamin, I doubt riboflavin deficiency is the cause unless she is abusing alcohol. I suspect that she has an infection in her mouth which is easily treated.

Look inside your daughter's mouth. Is her tongue coated white or the inside of her mouth coated white? These would be additional symptoms of a riboflavin deficiency. What other abnormalities do you see inside her mouth, on her tongue or gums? Is there a smell to the inside of her mouth?

Milk is a very good source of riboflavin and a multivitamin should contain 100% of the Recommended Dietary Allowances for riboflavin. The yellow - green tint in skim milk is caused by riboflavin. Light and irradiation destroy riboflavin though. Do you buy milk in containers that do not let in light? Riboflavin is not destroyed by heat and therefore is retained during cooking. Read the label on the vitamin bottle to determine the riboflavin level your daughter is taking.

Riboflavin deficiency may slow or stop your daughter's growth. If the doctor suspects a riboflavin deficiency, then he can prescribe several times the RDA for riboflavin, but the doctor needs to check for other symptoms. A test for vitamin levels in the body may require collecting blood or a 24 hour urine collection. Not many labs in the US test body fluids for vitamin levels and it may take a while to get the results back. Instead, doctors usually prescribe several times the RDA for a specific vitamin, which is administered for several days to see if the symptoms go away. Would not suggest you play doctor on this. Go make an appointment.

Riboflavin deficiency can occur because of alcoholism even when adequate amounts of riboflavin are present. This shouldn't be discounted in even a 14 year old.

If the cracks in the corners of her mouth are caused by an infection, she needs to be treated by a physician. I would recommend you make an appointment for her to see her doctor.

Once the cause is determined, I would suggest your daughter talk to a Registered Dietitian about a vegetarian diet. She may want to review the various beans, legumes, grains, fruits and vegetables that a person even on a strict vegetarian diet (vegan) should eat to get the best balanced variety of required vitamins and minerals. If your daughter is a lacto-ovo vegetarian, then she is also eating eggs and milk products in addition to the above foods.

BTW, her doctor may not suspect a riboflavin deficiency because traditional medicine has taught that vitamin deficiencies, other than iron, do not exist in the US because of an adequate food supply. Don't be brushed off with this type of thinking. Also, if an antibiotic is prescribed and she doesn't get better within a few days of taking a prescribed drug, go back to her doctor. Don't subscribe to the thinking of wait and this will just go away.

Thank you for your wonderful column!

I am a vegetarian and use soy products as my main source of protein. I have read about the nutrient value of soy and the benefits of isoflavones. I have never seen anything written about the effect cooking has on the nutrients in soy products. I use soy flour, soy nuts and soymilk in making bread and am also an avid fan of TVP and baked tofu.

Please advise if any particular form of soy is more beneficial than others and also the effect cooking might have on these health benefits. Thanks again for all of your helpful information!

It appears as though you know what you should be eating for a healthy vegetarian lifestyle.

The benefits of isoflavones are great! Isoflavones are a type of phytochemical which contain naturally occurring chemicals. The phytochemicals have been noted for preventing and treating cancer and are also a weapon against heart disease.

You asked about which type of soy is best. Although all of them are excellent sources of protein and other minerals such as iron, soy protein isolates are of the highest quality, containing 90% protein. Under new guidelines by the Food and Drug Administration, soy protein isolates received a rating of 1; meaning that its protein quality is right up there with dairy and meat products. Soy protein isolates come from de-hulled soybeans. The oil from the beans is also taken out and what is left is called "defatted flakes." The protein from the flakes results in the soy protein isolates.

Isolates are a highly digestible source of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Isolates are healthy and are low in fat, calories and cholesterol. You can find isolates in breads, baked goods, cereals, pastas, milkshake base, sauces and soups.

As far as cooking with soy products go, I could not find a resource which said that cooking destroys the protein in soy products. Cooking (heat or water) doesn't destroy protein. Heat and acids (vinegar, lemon, wine, Worcestershire and soy sauce) denatures protein and starts breaking it down like stomach acid. Read more about protein.

I did find though, that adding soy products to meat and dairy sources maximizes the effects of soy, but since you are a vegetarian, you don't use meat and may not use dairy products if your are a vegan. Cooking with soy flour is an added protein boost that also reduces shrinkage, provides structure and appearance by tying up fat and water which keeps breads from becoming stale. In fried foods, it reduces the amount of fat that is absorbed from the dough.

I recently became a vegetarian and am concerned that I'm not eating enough protein. Do you know of any way I could find out how much protein my diet supplies me with?

The protein content of your diet depends on whether you are a vegan (no animal products) or a lacto - ovo (milk and eggs) vegetarian or whether you just avoid red meats. Any of these choices can provide you with an adequate amount of protein depending on the food choices you make.

First you need to write down everything you eat, how it is prepared and how much (i.e. 1 1/2 cups) you eat. Next you need to analyze what you ate either by making an appointment to see a Registered Dietitian who could analyze your food records or buy some nutritional analysis software to do it yourself. If you are not eating animal meats, you should probably also take a look at the amounts of essential amino acids in your diet to determine if you are meeting your nutritional requirements.

A dietitian could provide the amounts of essential amino acids as compared to your Recommended Dietary Allowances.

If you decide to purchase nutritional analysis software, make sure the food database has amino acid values for all foods. Otherwise, you may not know if you are getting all 8 essential amino acids that you need. If amino acid values are missing for a lot of foods in the nutrition software, you may underestimate the amount of amino acids in the food you eat.

My Honors English 11 class is doing an "I-Search" paper where the student picks a topic and researches thoroughly the subject of choice. The topic I have chosen is one dealing in your area of expertise: Vegetarians and the strange diet many people are switching to every day. As part of my experience for this class I am changing my diet, as well, to that of a vegetarian in hoping to add a more personal tone to my paper. I would greatly appreciate your help in assisting me on my journey for knowledge in any way possible.

I'm interested in the advantages of a vegetarian diet. What is it that makes so many people, particularly the teens of today, switch to this meatless diet? What are the drawbacks or disadvantages of not eating meat? Is the common "myth" about those who are vegetarians live longer, true? How did the whole concept of vegetarianism come about? What are some other links that could also assist me in my search?

I realize you are very busy and that you do not have time to answer all of my questions. However, it would be truly beneficial to my project if you could respond to me with as many answers as possible. Your help in this endeavor is greatly appreciated. Thanks so much.

First I would suggest you read the questions and answers below. Another good online source of information is the Vegetarian Resource Group which are mostly dietitians. Also, the National Dairy Council, 10255 West Higgins Road, Suite 990, Rosemont IL 60018 847-803-2000 had a really good booklet on vegetarianism.

I think your personal experience will be invaluable and would suggest a 1-month trial. You may or may not have a difficult time finding meat analogs (substitutes) at the military base store, so try a store in town.

This is not a question but a comment. I have just read what you have to say on vegetarian diet and frankly, I'm disappointed at your advice. No, I'm not a dietitian, but even I know that the vegetarian diet and better still vegan diet, is the only really healthy diet. The idea that we have to combine foods to get complete amino acids was laid to rest and the ADA position paper states this fact. Am I correct?

Are you aware of the latest findings concerning iron? That too much iron is a cardiac risk factor? Yet you are advising people to eat meat to get enough iron.

Thank you for providing me the opportunity to update this topic. You are correct. I have just returned from the American Dietetic Association annual meeting where there were numerous presentations on various aspects of vegetarian diets. There is a rising swell of interest in vegetarian and vegan diets, especially soy based foods and beverages.

Current research suggests that if you eat a variety of grains, legumes, dried beans or peas, fruits and vegetables within a 24-hour period that you will probably meet your protein and essential amino acid requirements. So the balance between plant proteins over the day is more important in achieving your amino acid requirements. Furthermore, the higher protein requirement formerly recommended in vegetarian diets is not necessary because protein requirements can be met exclusively from plant sources.

Dr. Peter Pellett at the University of Massachusetts presented research at ADA that showed diets based on high intakes of grains are lacking in the amino acid lysine. Lysine is the most variable essential amino acid from all food sources and is the limiting amino acid in grain based diets.

Interestingly enough, there was also a presentation at ADA on too much iron in the American diet. The problem is more with iron fortification of foods than how much meat people eat. Check out some food labels of iron fortified foods. Do you eat more than one serving of a food per day that provides 100% of your iron requirement? Studies of heart disease point to many risk factors, not just meat consumption.

I think it is time for those vegetarians to quit throwing rocks at omnivores (meat eaters) as everyone has the right to make their own food choices. Besides, vegetarianism would probably attract a lot more advocates if the health benefits of a vegetarian diet were better publicized. There are many healthy diets that a person can eat and there is no perfect food though eggs and milk come close to perfect based on their nutrient content.

Plants contain all the essential amino acids and any single starch or vegetable has levels that exceed Rose's Recommended Requirements (the values present in your dietetic books).

It is impossible to design an amino acid deficient pure vegetarian diet that is based around any single or combination of unprocessed starches and/or vegetables (assuming calorie needs are met).

It is unnecessary (and in some ways harmful) to combine various vegetable foods to make the amino acid pattern look more like meat.

Dairy - consuming vegetarians commonly develop iron deficiency because of multiple effects of milk on iron metabolism.

Vegetarians do need B12 - but the risk of deficiency approaches zero on a pure vegetarian diet. This is the only scientifically valid criticism of a pure vegetarian diet.

Plants are loaded with iron and people on plant based diets, like the Chinese, have iron intakes that exceed Americans - furthermore, the iron is well absorbed and utilized; so that iron deficiency anemia is rare in pure vegetarians. Dairy-consuming vegetarians commonly develop iron deficiency because of multiple effects of milk on iron metabolism.

Calcium deficiency due to a low calcium diet is unreported in humans. I gather from your warnings about getting too much protein you are already aware of the adverse effects of animal protein on bone health (osteoporosis). A pure vegetarian diet has sufficient calcium and avoids the acid load and calcium losing kidney effects from meat proteins.

Worldwide osteoporosis is found commonly among people who eat a high animal protein diet (as well as a high calcium diet). This disease is rare in places where people consume no dairy (Africa/Asia) and little meat.

Vitamin D is a hormone provided by the action of sunlight on plant sterols found in the skin.

I have never heard of nor seen Rose's Recommended Requirements cited in dietetic books or literature. The National Academy of Sciences sets Recommended Dietary Allowances in the United States. The latest RDA's were published in 1989 and include estimates of amino acid requirements "based on nitrogen balance sufficient to support adequate lean tissue gain" for all age groups (Pineda et al 1981. The World Health Organization (WHO) also sets nutrient and amino acid requirements.

While plant based foods contain some of all amino acids, essential and non-essential, all single plant foods are an incomplete source of protein other than soybeans. That is why a variety of plant foods should be eaten, in particular with other plant foods not lacking in the same amino acid. Otherwise, eating single starch or vegetable food over a day can negatively affect protein synthesis in the body. Synthesis of lean muscle tissue goes on continuously within the body and is dependent upon new dietary sources of specific amino acids. In fact, eating just brown rice and no other foods actually caused death in some persons (Zen Macrobiotic diet).

I know of no research that states it is harmful to eat any combination of vegetable foods at the same time. After all, this body has genetic material that is thousands of years old and is based on foods available to a foraging cave person who ate whatever edible food they came in contact with, including meat.

The form of iron in plant materials is nonheme (2%) which is not as absorbable as heme iron (23%) found in meat. There are other factors such as cast iron cookware and the presence of foods high in vitamin C that increase iron absorption. I would recommend a diet of only plant foods for children even though iron deficiency anemia is the number one nutritional deficiency of children in the United States.

I do not know what the iron status is of people in China specifically. I do know that one area of China (Linxian) has the highest incidence of stomach and esophageal cancer in the world which after a controlled experiment (30,000 people) showed a significant decrease in cancers after supplementing their Chinese diet with a multivitamin and antioxidants which are mostly found in fruits and vegetables.

Calcium deficiency in humans is due to a low calcium diet or increased calcium loses. Phosphorus does increase calcium loss and phosphorus is found in meat and carbonated beverages. But unless one ate excess meat as in high protein, low carbohydrate diets, calcium loss is not considered significant.

Osteoporosis in post menopausal women is attributed to decreased estrogen production, inadequate dietary calcium and insufficient weight bearing exercise.

Vitamin D can be made by cholesterol in skin that is exposed to sunlight. Increased sun exposure however can increase a person's susceptibility to skin cancer. Fortified milk is the best source of vitamin D other than fish oils, dairy fats, egg yolks and liver - most sources of saturated fats which are also undesirable.

A vegetarian diet can provide adequate amino acids, vitamins and minerals provided that a person makes good food choices.

I've read your statements on protein and vegetarians. Without trying to offend you, you should know the scientific literature doesn't not support your position. I have written several books on the subject. If you were not already familiar with them, I would suggest you read The McDougall Plan (New Win)--found in most bookstores and libraries. I reviewed 80 years of basic research before writing this book. The facts in it remain unchallenged. After reading this material and the basic research, if you still hold your position on these two subjects I would like to know why (with appropriate citations).

Thanks for writing. No offense taken. Please be specific about which position you feel I have taken that is in conflict with current published research so that I can respond specifically. I have re-read the Vegetarian Topic and do not know of any conflict based on the references I have. In addition, Ask the Dietitian is a service for consumers and is based on current nutrition practice. Therefore, citations are not provided.

I've been avoiding animal products for the last two years? I think I eat a pretty healthy diet. Lately, I haven't had much energy. What are some energy foods?

When you say you avoid animal products, I think of no meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese or butter. Also, I would think that you are eating vegetables, dried beans and peas (legumes), cereal grains and fruit. This is called a strict vegetarian diet (vegan).

You state that you haven't had much energy lately. This can be a result of diet, health, lack of exercise or frame of mind. If you feel physically tired and want to sleep a lot, you should see your doctor to first check out any health problems.

At the same time, you should also look at your diet. Are you eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, legumes and grains foods during the day?

A vegetarian diet is typically a good diet to follow because it can be low in fat and cholesterol and high in fiber. Depending on the foods you choose, it can also be low in complete proteins, iron, vitamin B12, riboflavin, calcium and vitamin D.

If you have been on a strict vegetarian diet, there are some basic guidelines that you should follow. Because you choose only non-animal sources of protein which are incomplete, you may be lacking in one or more essential amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and your body uses protein to build and repair itself. There are eight essential amino acids that your body must get from dietary proteins. The other 12 are called nonessential amino acids because your body can make them from other proteins. If you don't eat a diet that contains all eight essential amino acids every day, you will develop a protein deficiency. This can take some months to happen since your body does have the protein reserves in your body to use for repair. Protein structures in your body are muscles, organs, blood, hormones and enzymes. The building of protein structures happens from birth through growth until adulthood. After growth is completed, the adult body continually repairs itself by making replacement cells. The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for males is 63 grams and for females 50 grams of protein.

Meat, milk products, eggs and soybeans are complete proteins. Other non-animal sources of protein are lacking in one or more of the eight essential amino acids and are incomplete proteins. If you combine two foods that are not lacking in the same amino acids, you have a complete protein. This process of combining two incomplete proteins is called complementary proteins. Complimentary proteins should be eaten during the day to get all eight essential amino acids needed for growth and repair of protein structures in the body. There is a general rule that you can combine a legume (dried bean or pea) with a grain or a legume with a nut or seed to make a complete protein. It is easier to remember this simple guideline, than trying to remember numerous combinations of specific foods.

If you are a vegetarian, you could use a software program to track the amino acid content in what you eat. Make a vegetarian meal using nutrition analysis software that has amino acids in the nutrient database and take a look at the amino acid content total for that meal. If you look at the analysis of each food separately, you can see that one legume (e.g. peanuts) is not lacking in the same amino acid as a grain (e.g. whole wheat bread). Also, 1/2 cup of legumes equals one ounce of meat. To replace one-quarter pound hamburger, you should eat 1 1/2 cups of legumes.

You should also be sure that you eat enough calories per day. Other foods that do not contain protein, like carbohydrates and fats, spare protein from being burned as energy (calories). Then protein is left to build and repair your body. Eat at least 2,000 calories per day if you are at your healthy body weight.

The best sources of iron and vitamin B12 are found in animal products. If you do not eat meat, milk products or eggs, your diet may be deficient in these two nutrients as well. Iron stores in vegans are generally lower than lacto ovo vegetarians. Red meats are the best source of heme iron, which is absorbed better than non-heme iron that you find in vegetables and grains. Both iron and vitamin B12 are involved in red blood cell production. Your red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen around your body. You feel tired lately and it could be caused by a deficiency of iron and vitamin B12. If you are a strict vegetarian, you should consider taking an iron and vitamin B12 supplement.

Fortified milk products are a very good source of calcium, riboflavin and vitamin D. Non-animal sources of these nutrients are usually low. Calcium and vitamin D are essential for absorbing and depositing calcium in bones and teeth. A deficiency of these nutrients can cause bowing in the legs of infants and children. In adults, the deficiency of calcium is called osteoporosis, which results in bone loss especially in the spine and hips. It is this calcium loss that results in loss of height and hip fractures. Calcium is also a necessary part of your blood and gives muscles the ability to contract. If you don't eat milk products, you would be wise to take a calcium and vitamin D supplement daily.

The National Dairy Council in Rosemont, Illinois has an excellent brochure called "Vegetarian Nutrition". I would suggest you send for it today as it is very inexpensive.

I decided to become a vegetarian after my doctor told me I had a high blood cholesterol. All I'm eating is vegetables, grains and fruits. How long will it take my cholesterol to go down from 290? My doctor tells me it has to get below 200.

Congratulations, you are doing something to lower your blood cholesterol. A vegetarian diet has many good points that will help you, but it can still be high in total fat though.

Depending on what foods you choose to include in your vegetarian diet, your total fat and cholesterol content may still be too high. An ovo vegetarian does eat eggs in addition to other plant based foods. An egg yolk is the highest dietary source of cholesterol at 213 milligrams, according to the latest information from the USDA (June 1989). You should limit your egg yolks to four per week. Choose four days of the week to include one egg yolk to help you remember.

If you are a lacto vegetarian, you are including milk and cheese products. Unless you choose low fat or skim milk products, you are still adding fat and cholesterol to your diet.

If you don't eat eggs or milk and have followed a strict vegetarian diet (vegan), you may still be eating lots of fat. Do you eat nuts (especially macademia), seeds or coconut? These are high fat foods and they add up fat quickly. Coconut and palm kernel oils may be found in non-dairy creamers and toppings. They are high in saturated fat which also raises your blood cholesterol.

Another consideration besides what you eat is your weight. Weight loss and exercise will also help lower your blood cholesterol.

The dietary recommendations you should follow are: lower total fat intake to 30% of your total calories from fat; lower your food sources of cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams daily; limit saturated fats to equal polyunsaturated fats; lose weight if you are overweight and exercise daily. While I cannot predict how fast your blood cholesterol will come down to under 200 milligrams percent, you should see lower blood cholesterol after one month of following the above dietary guidelines. Blood cholesterol may come down 10% per month. It may take quite a few months on the diet to meet your doctor's expectations of under 200.

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